Sunday, 1 May 2016

Egypt : Islands agreement contested


A number of political forces are trying to annul the controversial Egyptian-Saudi maritime borders demarcation agreement, writes Mona El-Nahhas

Taking part in the 25 April demonstrations against the ceding of the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia is just one of several steps due to be taken by members of the Popular Campaign to Protect Land, a group set up to contest the agreement to cede the islands.


On 25 April, the 34th anniversary of the Sinai liberation, campaign members organised a protest in Mesaha Square in Dokki to press for the dropping of the borders demarcation agreement, by which Egypt handed the two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.


The day before, on 24 April, it was planned that the protests would be organised at the downtown headquarters of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, at the Al-Bohooth metro station and in Qasr Al-Aini Street, near the Doctors Syndicate.


However, on the day of the protests, campaign members decided to change the demonstration locations, which had been cordoned off by the security forces from the early hours of the morning.


Although the demonstrators were keen to keep the demonstrations peaceful, they were soon dispersed, with the security forces using tear gas. Dozens of journalists and activists who took part in the protests were arrested and some political parties were placed under a security blockade.


In a statement issued on Monday, the campaign condemned the security forces for the way they dealt with the protesters and called upon the authorities to immediately release all detainees.


“Campaign members will discuss means of pressuring the regime into releasing the detainees. Members will also define the steps they will take to achieve the campaign’s original target, namely the return of the Tiran and Sanafir islands,” the statement said.


On 22 April, 16 liberal and leftist political parties and movements, together with 163 public figures of different political affiliations, signed the foundational statement of the “Egypt is not for Sale” campaign launched by the movement.


The aim is to halt the handing over of the two islands to Saudi Arabia, as signatories to the statement made clear.


“Members of the campaign are keen to avoid any deviation from demands defined in advance,” Medhat Al-Zahed, acting chairman of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, told the Al-Nahar Al-Youm satellite channel.


Al-Zahed denied the possibility of coordinating with the banned Muslim Brotherhood group or any other sectarian group. “We are not going to allow sectarian or other projects to mix with our target, which is restoring the two islands to Egypt,” Al-Zahed said. He added that any action campaign members take will be directed against the agreement, not President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.


On 24 April, campaign members announced that they stand against any joint protests with the Brotherhood. “We are not part of any calls or stances adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood regarding the 25 April protests, which we are keen to emphasise are peaceful,” they said in a statement.


But the annulment of the demarcation agreement, which was originally the sole target of the campaign, has now been joined by another issue.


In the wake of the security campaign targeting dozens of activists, journalists and university students in several governorates since last Thursday, the immediate release of these detainees is viewed as another task facing campaign members.


Charges of spreading false news and attempting to topple the regime have been levelled against the detainees. Another large group of young people was arrested two weeks ago while taking part in the 15 April protests organised five days after the signing of the agreement.


The 15 April detainees face charges of demonstrating without a licence from the Interior Ministry, a procedure stipulated in Egypt’s controversial protest law. On his Facebook account, former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi wrote on 23 April, “Release Egypt’s youth and students. Enough arrests. Enough jail. Enough injustice.”


Campaign lawyers coordinating with rights lawyers and committees defending the protestors have been following up cases of those arrested since the signing of the agreement.


“The popular campaign will form a defence council to attend interviews with the detainees,” rights lawyer and campaign member Gamal Eid told Al-Ahram Weekly. “We hope the general prosecution will act impartially during the investigations and exclude itself from any ongoing political conflict,” he added.


In a statement issued on Saturday, the campaign condemned the detentions, viewing such measures as “an attempt to foil the 25 April protests by terrorising whoever opposes the stance adopted by the regime” regarding the islands.


The campaign warned that the arrest of dozens of young people from cafes, universities and houses could fuel anger “among people wanting to defend their land”. It also warned of pro-regime calls to mobilise counter-protests, viewing these as risking “serious confrontations” between the two sides.


“It is the responsibility of the presidency and all state bodies to protect the 25 April protests and not to cause harm to any of the participants,” the campaign said in a statement issued on Saturday.


It said the protests are only the beginning of ongoing actions. “We will continue our efforts until we manage to get the agreement dropped,” journalist Khaled Al-Balshi, a campaign member, told the Weekly.


The detentions have only “increased the enthusiasm of the youth who have decided to continue the battle for freedom, dignity and land rights,” he said.


On 22 April, the campaign defined plans to achieve its target. Campaign members say they will organise meetings across Egypt to inform the public and prove Egypt’s ownership of the islands. Headquarters of the political parties participating in the campaign will be open to those willing to join, and committees will be formed to collect signatures of citizens who support cancellation of the agreement.


A petition will be submitted to the House of Representatives, which is due to discuss the agreement. Citizen appeals contesting the constitutionality of the agreement will also be presented before the Supreme Constitutional Court.


Dozens of lawsuits calling for annulling the agreement are being processed, and the first hearings are scheduled for 17 May.

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